mother and father and two sons holding hands walking

When You’re too Small for FMLA

Per the US Department of Labor, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave…FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees.”

Of course, most of us in the small business world, by definition, have less than 50 employees. However, we still have employees who get sick, or have kids, or have other reasons for which they need to take family and medical leave. And most employers (who are good employers), want to find a way to take care of their most valuable asset – their employees – even if it’s not strictly mandated by federal law.

So, business owners are left with a balancing act, to protect their staff and keep them happy, but to not cost too much in money and productivity. To assist, we have put together this list of FLMA alternatives which small businesses might utilize.

mother crouching to look at son with a smilePaid Time Off

This is the easiest, as it’s something many businesses already have in place. Instead of designating what time off might be used for, have a clear policy (in writing), that describes how PTO is earned, how much each employee receives, and how much notice is required (if possible) for it to be put into use. Some employers like to separate “sick leave”, “vacation leave”, “personal leave”, etc. However, requiring proof, such as a doctor’s note, that leave used was sick leave is tricky, and can get into privacy issues. Also, there might be other, very personal things, for which a person might need to use leave and would not want to provide a note (a court hearing for an adoption, or fertility treatments). Having a generous PTO policy is easier to track, and allows employees the freedom to use time off as they see fit.

alarm clockFlex Hours

Obviously, certain industries do not lend themselves well to flex time. (It would be hard to staff a restaurant or construction site where anyone could come and go as they please without notice.) However, in certain businesses, where the majority of the day is not customer-facing and communication typically occurs via email (i.e. programming), it can be helpful to let staff set their own schedule. This way, they can leave for appointments without as great a loss of productivity. However, it is important that team members still be considerate of each other and, for purposes of connecting and collaboration, keep each other apprised of when they will be in-office or available.

sitting on bed working on laptopWork-From-Home

Working from home temporarily or part-time can be a great way to keep an employee who needs time away for medical or family leave somewhat connected with the office. This way, they do not suffer the loss of income associated with a lengthy leave, and the business does not suffer the loss of productivity which comes with having a key person completely unavailable.

doctor writing on a clipboardFMLA Compliance

All FLMA really means is that you keep an employee’s position open while they are out on extended leave. Even if you are not large enough to be legally required to do so, it’s not a bad idea. The gap can be filled with temporary help and, in fact, using a temp-to-hire person can be a great way to fill in (in case your employee chooses not to come back from leave).


Having an employee need to take substantial time away from work can be stressful on everyone. However, flexibility and collaboration can ensure that your business needs are covered, and that your employees feel secure in their position with you. Whatever your plan, be sure to have it documented in writing, and reviewed by an employment attorney or HR specialist.